The Quest for Intimacy and
Passion: Challenges for the ACD
As you may know, the divorce rate continues to hover around fifty
percent, where it has been now for some time. If half of marriages
end in divorce today, it is likely that many of you—like me—are
ACD's—Adult Children of Divorce. How has our parents' divorce
affected us and our own quest for love and happiness?
My parents were divorced when I was three. From childhood I vowed
not to be one of the fifty percent—I was going to succeed where they
had "failed." Yet, I too, became a statistic when my first marriage
of 25 years came to an end, despite valiant attempts by my first
wife and me to save it. So now my adult children, too, have joined
the ranks of ACD's.
Much has been written about the effect of divorce on children.
However, very little research has been done on the impact of divorce
on adults and the challenges of ACD's in general. A recent study at
the University of New Orleans sheds some of the long awaited light.
Among the findings of the study, is that for ACD's intimacy, trust,
commitment, loyalty and passion are more complex issues than for
children of intact families. For example, many of us crave the
intimacy, yet female ACD's tend to experience more relationship
conflict and to have an increased number of sexual partners than
those from intact families, though the same is not true for men.
There is some suggestion that in our quest for the intimacy we may
confuse casual sexual relationships with emotional intimacy. We also
have a tendency to get into relationships or marriage at a young age
or to seek to fulfill our emotional needs in relationships that are
ACD's also demonstrate an overall lack of trust with regard to
intimate relationships and marriage. Sadly, many of us expect our
marriages to fail, at least unconsciously, and we may even sabotage
our intimate relationships because of a fear of rejection and lack
of trust. Ironically, while we long for affection, seeking the
affection which we did not see or experience at home, we may
withdraw emotionally from our partners, repeating a coping mechanism
learned in childhood.
The option of cohabitation and availability of divorce as an option
also impact our attitude toward marriage. Adult children of divorce
are more likely to prefer cohabitation to marriage or to say they do
not want to marry in the future. Yet we ACD's are more likely to put
ourselves in situations that promote marriage, such as cohabitation.
The most significant finding of the study is that ACD's are much
more concerned with intimacy and loyalty as well as passion in
relationships than are adults from intact families. Consequently,
our expectations are sometimes unrealistic. We did not see a good
marriage model, so we have created one in our imagination. The
picture may be lovely, but it is not necessarily realistic.
On the other hand, the study found that ACD's often demonstrate
residual strength and maturity and empathy for others borne of their
family divorce experience. As Winston Churchill observed, "The
farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to
see." Armed with that awareness and our residual strength, we can
begin to change our patterns and create a new vision, to live our
lives differently. One of the things that draws us to the use of
Imago Relationship Therapy in our counseling and coaching practice,
is that Imago allows persons in committed relationships to heal
childhood wounds, whether from divorce or some other source. It is a
priceless tool for creating the new vision.
Divorce is a terrible, painful thing. Yet I know that sometimes it
is the only available resolution to a relationship in conflict.
Perhaps with growing knowledge and understanding of some of the
vulnerabilities that challenge us as adult children of divorce, we
can move forward and experience healing. Perhaps we can even begin
to reverse the divorce statistic.
Kenneth Sprang, MA, JD, and Carol Sprang, MA, RNC
direct Bethesda-Chevy Chase Counseling & Consulting in Bethesda,
offering Imago Relationship Therapy, relationship and executive
coaching, individual and couples coaching and counseling, and
business consulting services. (301) 907-3377.